High-Tech Turns Cessnas Into Aerial Photo Platforms

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Traditionally, creating aerial photographs for mapping has been a pretty complex exercise, involving loads of expensive equipment, big stable aircraft and a highly trained crew. But now the John Deere company has developed a simple digital system that can be strapped on to any small single-engine airplane and flown by any commercial pilot. The system is intended to provide farmers with detailed, real-time information about the condition of their crops. Eight digital cameras are packaged into a small pod that is strapped on to a fixed-landing-gear strut. Two cables run into the cockpit, where a computer provides the pilot with a flight plan. "The pilot concentrates on altitude and flight aircraft position relative to the ground to get as consistent an image as possible," John Deere spokesman Jeff Keiser told the Farm & Ranch Guide. "The computer manages the camera system, the aperture and the exposure." The pilot flies a grid about 8,000 feet above the field and, after landing, downloads the information to the John Deere Web site. "By using global positioning satellites (GPS) to match images to specific areas in the field, the resulting processed images highlight areas that may indicate potential issues which could affect crops and impact yields," says John Deere's Terry Brown. "The OptiGro System is among the first to integrate the new technologies of digital imaging, computer analysis, GPS, variable rate systems and the Internet."